File Formats: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

An individual collection of data is often referred to as a file. There are many different formats and they will normally fall into one of three categories: application document or data formats, interchangeable file formats, and output file formats.

The application document formats tend to be specific to the original application that created it and typically cannot be used by another application, e.g., an InDesign document can only be opened in InDesign.

Interchangeable formats are generally used to transfer data between different applications. They usually can only contain a single "page" worth of data. Very often they can also be used directly for printing but usually they lack any specific control over how the file is to be output, e.g., EPS, TIFF, BMP, GIF.

Output file formats are usually page description language formats that can contain all the page elements and production requests required to print the whole document. Some are proprietary, e.g., IBM AFP, HP JLT, but others are open industry standard formats, e.g., PostScript® (PS) and Portable Document Format (PDF).